Help Heal the Earth

January 16, 2024

Let’s help nature!

In search of hopefulness for our stressed out environment, I recently attended a presentation by Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. He advocates that we are nature’s only hope, and he wrote a book with that name. He explains simple strategies to support our ecosystems by “bringing nature home” and heralding the “nature of oaks” (respective titles of his other books). Because I heard him say oak trees support 557 caterpillars, I bought a small pin oak tree and planted it this week — our property’s first. It’s a keystone plant meaning other species in this ecosystem largely depend upon it; without mighty oaks our ecosystem would change drastically. Calling all caterpillars! These essential invertebrates are the main source of nourishment for baby birds. A caterpillar is the larval stage of a moth or butterfly. Without the trees, shrubs and flowers that host a myriad of caterpillars, there would be no birds, and subsequently animal populations would decline, and ultimately our biosphere rots. Sounds hideous, but it’s happening.

One-third of our bird population is extinct due to what Tallamy calls dead landscapes, ones with no natural resources for winged creatures. Detractors include construction, monoculture lawns, all-night lights that kill nocturnal insects, insecticides, and plants that don’t host any caterpillars, like the Gingko trees I planted in the spring. “Think of them as statues,” Tallamy says, no harm but no benefit to nature’s essential food chains. Invasive plants are harmful though. Beyond little biological support, they spread like wildfire and wipe out space for productive plants.

Noting that 78% of land in the United States is privately owned, Tallamy directs us to steward our share of earth, beyond conservation to restoration. On his own once-barren Pennsylvania property, he decided what caterpillars he wanted to see. As a bug guy, he’s into the coolest (or weirdest) of cylindrical creatures and can speed through slides with their Latin names rolling off his tongue. By planting plants that host these caterpillars, he has successfully greeted them all as well as invited the wide variety of birds they feed. Tallamy says that even the right plants in pots will help the natural world.

Let’s make our yards an arsenal for nature. Tallamy encourages us to start a new habitat with his initiative called Homegrown National Park, where you can find resources and register your property by:

  • Choosing the right plants
  • Reducing lawn
  • Planting more natives
  • Removing invasives

By bringing nature home, we can each make a difference to heal the earth.